Snapchat Dysmorphia (say what now?)

Dealing with teenage disaffection used to be fairly simple. Get drunk, and/or channel Philip Larkin (preferably out loud). If you paid careful attention to the poet’s last verse, everything could even be alright in the end, and nothing would ever be your fault.

How things have changed. Continue reading “Snapchat Dysmorphia (say what now?)”

“Ultra-processed” foods and cancer

So there’s a “study” making the rounds claiming to have found evidence of a link between consuming “ultra-processed foods” and developing cancer. It’s not the first time we’ve heard that processed stuff like bacon and pastrami leads to cancer, but this one expands the range of “processed” to the more scary “ultra-processed” to include the following (handily summarised by the BBC):

Leaving aside what exactly even are “foods made mostly or entirely from sugar, oils and fats”, it’s an excellent example of the kind of rubbish headlines that lead to the worst outcomes of social media, and of the resulting issue of people being rightly confused about what, or what not, to eat,  because it’s so beautifully tweetable, but mostly bullshit (scientifically speaking):

The main issue here is fairly simple to explain, but it unfortunately comes with consequences that are less simple to undo with a few words on Twitter. Continue reading ““Ultra-processed” foods and cancer”

What is expertise?

Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 07.35.58It’s a misleading title, in a way, because I was driven to write this here and now by a new article/interview with “original” bad boy celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain (though as rightly acknowledged in that conversation, that distinction of Uber bad boy must of course go to Marco Pierre White. After Keith Floyd, that is).

I’m a fan of Bourdain, for the record. (And congratulations to him on turning 60, which is why he is pictured here with his face on a cake having narrowly escaped being punctuated by birthday candles.) But here’s the bit that got me:

In order to write well about food you need to eat well, and you cannot eat well if you’re analyzing the food.

Continue reading “What is expertise?”

“The only reason privacy ever existed is because Facebook didn’t”

privacy

The title quote comes from a British postgraduate student, and for the past couple of years I’ve found it useful to get students talking and thinking about how social media influence/shape/challenge our existing norms. Of course there are some who believe that social media mostly destroy what should be our norms, and the issue of privacy gets much of the attention.

Like everyone else who is glued to a screen for the better part of most days, I have also been reading about Facebook Home, the new (not-actually-a-)phone thingy in the works. The New Yorker describes it as cycling ‘through a collection of full-screen photos pulled from Facebook, which it pairs with status updates from friends, whooshing from one update to another’, which sounds like a perfectly horrible thing to have happening on my phone. No thanks.

Continue reading ““The only reason privacy ever existed is because Facebook didn’t””

Net Wisdom

Lovely piece by Robert Cotrell in the FT on what a good time it is to be a reader:

‘It is a privilege to earn one’s living by writing but, as I discovered, it is also a privilege, and a less stressful one, to earn one’s living by reading.

My first contention: this is a great time to be a reader. The amount of good writing freely available online far exceeds what even the most dedicated consumer might have hoped to encounter a generation ago within the limits of printed media.

I don’t pretend that everything online is great writing. Let me go further: only 1 per cent is of value to the intelligent general reader, by which I mean the demographic that, in the mainstream media world, might look to the Economistthe Financial TimesForeign Affairs or the Atlantic for information. Another 4 per cent of the internet counts as entertaining rubbish. The remaining 95 per cent has no redeeming features. But even the 1 per cent of writing by and for the elite is an embarrassment of riches, a horn of plenty, a garden of delights.’

 

Have figs, bake cake, blog it

A week ago the sailor went into the world looking for a snack, and came home with a pack of figs, some bacon and a slab of smoked mozzarella. He had visions of stuffing the figs with the cheese, wrapping them in bacon and frying them up until everything was squidgy, smoky and crispy.

It sounded interesting enough, but because of the control freak that I am I already had plans for dinner (imminent), I discouraged him from going ahead. (I love him dearly, but seriously? Why can’t a snack just be an apple or a handful of nuts?)

A week later the snack pack lay untouched in the fridge, so bacon became breakfast this morning, and the figs are now on the way to cakey goodness, thanks to Dorie Greenspan, who tempted me with this picture in her lovely baking book:

Continue reading “Have figs, bake cake, blog it”

Death by Treacle

From The American Scholar, on a culture built on rewarding the gradual refrain from responsibility:

‘As we move from a culture that celebrated risk to a more cautious culture of “risk factors” and “at-risk” people, victims of random, tragic fate become more monstrous to our sense of fairness. This and the corporate-class bogeyman of sentiment-drunk jurors who grant extravagant personal injury awards must explain the growth of product warning labels such as “Shin Pads Cannot Protect Any Part of the Body They Do Not Cover,” “Wheelbarrow Is Not Intended for Highway Use,” “Do Not Use Hair Dryer While Sleeping,” or “Eating Rocks May Lead to Broken Teeth.”’

And the “lite intimacy” of social media: 

‘Lite intimacies in social media create a background din of disclosure, confession, closeness, and familiarity. It isn’t inherently fake or objectionable, and if it were only a semantic problem, I wouldn’t be concerned. But there is danger, it seems to me, of losing our coordinates. There’s a danger that the lite intimacies of the sentimental culture might deplete the resources of our true intimacies. If the intimate building blocks that once belonged mostly to a domestic partner or family—the sharing of a million little details about our moods, and what we ate for breakfast, and our daily rituals and secret gripes—now belong to everyone on Facebook in the world of lite intimacy, then how much deeper do we need to go to find the everyday material out of which to recognize, solidify, and build that deeper intimacy? Do we have to scream emotions louder to be heard over the cacophony of the lite intimacy? A mild hypothesis for the new social life of our age: the easier it is to be close but not intimate in public, the easier it is to be close but not intimate in private.’

Thank God It’s No Longer #FollowFriday

Warning: another soapbox moment Twitter rant.

I like Twitter. I like it much more than Facebook, its evil not-so-twin. I particularly like the fact that, unlike Facebook, Twitter doesn’t force you to take part in social politics, like be-“friend”ing someone you went to school with two decades ago and never spoke to, and suddenly you are “remembering” when it’s their birthday and joining their other 500 “friends” to say Happy Birthday! Have a wonderful day!, to which they respond the next day with “Wow! Thanks all for the wonderful wishes. So special to be remembered!”. Yeah right.

#FollowFriday/#FF seems to me to veer dangerously close to this type of inanity. (For those of you with your heads in the sand not on Twitter, go look at How #FollowFriday works).

I understand the endorsement factor. Being included in a #FF tweet tells other people who might not otherwise find you worth following. But like the “friend” situation on Facebook, it messes with natural selection. I don’t want to follow someone because someone else says that I should. I choose to follow people based on discovering that their Twitter activity somehow adds value to my life. Sure, sometimes I’m wrong, and I may miss someone important, but I would rather miss someone important than end up following a bunch of people who haven’t earned my attention.

The beauty of Twitter is that by paying attention, you end up finding the people you want to follow without silly “traditions” like #FF. Like a particular columnist? Start following them on Twitter, and it’s likely that soon enough they’ll re-tweet someone else who you then discover is also worth following, and so on. Or if you retweet them, they may start following you, and so on. It’s the activity of attention that makes Twitter worthwhile – not attention for the sake of attention.

Which is why I also don’t like this “tradition” of welcoming new people on Twitter and asking your followers to follow them. I have good friends in real life who I enjoy having a glass of wine and a natter with. Chefs whose food I happily pay good money to eat. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to start following them just because they join Twitter. Show me that you’re worth following, and you’re in.

And if I then retweet or mention you, please don’t bother thanking me. I get that it’s polite to acknowledge acknowledgement, but can’t we just let the subtleties of interaction be without all the extra noise (“Thank you.” “No, thank you!” “No no, it’s you who must be thanked!”)? My mention of you is (perhaps) an endorsement to my followers to follow you, and you can thank me by continuing to add value to my life by tweeting interesting things. That’s it.

I am by no means a Twitter celeb, and neither is that my aspiration. But I guess some people who read this might get irritated by the grump I’ve got on. Maybe they will even unfollow me. That’s too bad. But if you’re following me for any reason other than the fact that you enjoy what I bring to the table, then you’re following me for the wrong reasons. Sorry, that’s it.

All I hope for is that Twitter doesn’t turn into Twitbook. So #TGINLFF. (And don’t get me started on #woofwednesday.)

Everyone’s a critic now

An older piece by Neal Gabler in The Observer, where he observes that the Internet has just actualised a very old idea:

‘ It is certainly no secret that the internet has eroded the authority of traditional critics and substituted Everyman opinion on blogs, websites, even on Facebook and Twitter where one’s friends and neighbours get to sound off. What is less widely acknowledged is just how deeply this populist blowback is embedded in America and how much of American culture has been predicated on a conscious resistance to cultural elites. It is virtually impossible to understand America without understanding the long ongoing battle between cultural commissars who have always attempted to define artistic standards and ordinary Americans who take umbrage at those commissars and their standards.

…  We live, then, in a new age of cultural populism – an age in which everyone is not only entitled to his opinion but is encouraged to share it. Nothing could be more American.’

Interesting take. Read it here.